May 1, 2020 / 9:12 PM / a month ago

New Mexico orders city lockdown near Navajo country over 'frightful' virus spread

TAOS, N.M. (Reuters) - New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham on Friday ordered a lockdown of the western city of Gallup, saying tougher measures were needed in the surrounding county which includes part of the Navajo Nation where coronavirus deaths have been high.

FILE PHOTO: Democratic candidate for governor Michelle Lujan Grisham sits down for a meal at Barelas Coffee House on midterm elections day in Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S., November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

All roads into Gallup, which borders the Navajo Nation, were closed and businesses in the city of 22,000 will close from 5 p.m. through 8 a.m., according to Lujan Grisham’s order, which invoked New Mexico’s Riot Control Act.

Gallup is the seat of McKinley County, which has 1,027 coronavirus cases and 19 deaths, the highest for any New Mexico county.

McKinley County includes part of the Navajo Nation reservation, an area the size of West Virginia with one of the highest per capita COVID-19 fatality rates in the country when measured against states.

“The spread of #COVID19 in McKinley County is frightful. Physical distancing has not occurred & is not occurring,” Lujan Grisham tweeted, after enacting the order at the request of Gallup’s mayor. “Stricter measures are necessary to stop the virus.”

New Mexico has one of the highest per capita coronavirus death rates among less populous U.S. states, with 53 deaths per one million people, according to the Covid Tracking Project, a volunteer group that publishes state data on the pandemic.

Under Lujan Grisham’s order, vehicles in Gallup may only carry up to two people, and residents should stay home except for essential trips. Under limits in the Riot Control Act, the order lasts until noon Monday and will be enforced by city, county and state police with offenders facing a potential misdemeanor charge.

The Navajo Nation has a separate 57-hour weekend curfew starting at 8 p.m.

Grisham on Friday relaxed her previous stay-at-home order in most areas to allow curbside retail pickup, reopening of veterinarian clinics and golf courses and limited state park reopenings.

She kept her previous order in place for the northwest counties of McKinley, San Juan and Cibola, citing “extreme heightened risk of transmission.”

The mayor of Grants in Cibola County is among leaders of around 20 small towns in the state who have called on Lujan Grisham to lift her shutdown of non-essential businesses set to run until May 15.

Grants Mayor Martin “Modey” Hicks has encouraged businesses such as the city’s golf course to reopen, defying a request by the state’s attorney general that he “follow the rule of law.”

Reporting By Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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